For some reason that I cannot explain I am obsessed with Tulle. I love the way it falls, the drama that it can create and when done right the elegant touch that it can add to an outfit. Laura Chambers is an Irish Designer whose work with both Tulle and Cashmere that I cannot get enough of – her work is just breathtakingly beautiful.
Laura uses cashmere to create beautiful cashmere clothing and accessories, and her use of block colours makes them really stand out in the most wonderful way. We are delighted to be sharing an interview with Laura today on Floralesque, and learning more about her journey into design and inspirations along the way.
Can you please tell us a little bit about your path to launching Laura Chambers the brand?
I studied fashion in NCAD and to be honest I did not have much patience for knitwear in college. I found using the machines was not my forte at the time. I was much more into designing and making with other fabrics. I was less commercial than for sure and I think my natural progression at that time would have been designing for theatre etc. However, following college, I worked in
Quin and Donnelly in their design studio. This period helped me develop a more commercial eye. After my time there I went to Australia and worked in the Costume Department on various films and namely Star Wars Episode II but also worked for a few niche designer boutiques. I think working on a shop floor is a very important learning curve for any fashion designer. Getting to know what the customer really wants and needs from their wardrobe. Dealing hands-on with the daily running of a retail space and watching how the space in which a product is sold can greatly influence the success of a brand.
As a result of my retail experiences in Australia on my return, I opened Tulle in the Georges Street Arcade. I brought home and stocked exclusively brands such as Sass and Bide and Rachel Gilbert and other international brands such as Matthew Williamson, By Malene Birger and our very own Joanne Hynes. Over my years in Tulle, I loved going on buying trips sourcing brands that had a strong design aesthetic and a quality end product.
However, after 7 years in business, the recession hit and women’s wear was seen as a luxury and sales declined but the rents and overheads kept going up. I found it a struggle to keep going especially with a young family. I closed the store in 2009 and decided to focus on the kids and my husband’s research business.
One day while moving house I found my old Brother knitting machine. I discovered I had a very different mindset to my college days. I had much more patience and enjoyed the challenge and got less frustrated with the process. In fact, I found sitting at my machine cathartic. I loved sitting at the machine trying to knit for my kids or other people. The focus required meant that I had to forget about life outside of my studio for a while. I realized people actually liked what I loved making and I could not stop thinking about new designs and new cashmere colours and so Laura Chambers the brand was born.
I had no real plan initially, to be honest, knitwear just enabled me to learn a craft and design and produce a beautiful product that I loved to wear myself and absolutely loved seeing others wear. Of course, knitting in beautiful cashmere was always going to be what I knitted with. Having had a boutique for seven years I had developed a love of cashmere and I would only wear cashmere myself so it was very unlikely I would work with anything less!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Gosh, I can get my inspiration from so many random places/ situations. It could be as simple as the interior of a room I have seen or a person or an era. It is quite a natural process for me. I find myself drawn towards certain colours, patterns and styles subconsciously and then from that, a collection is inspired and grows. It’s a very fluid process for me and its one of the stages of the process that I really really love. I adore the colour and for me looking at a cashmere colour card and putting together colour combinations for a collection is like a kid in a candy store. Sometimes I have a tendency to go over the top and each design has to be pared back from the point of view of cost and the customer.
I am also very naturally drawn towards femininity and I guess pretty things when it comes to designing. This has always been the way. I had an obsession with ballerinas all through my childhood and right through college. I adore their fragility, femininity, beauty and strength. While I myself can appreciate and indeed wear the more functional, neutral design ethos it’s not my natural design style. I think everyone expects my home to be full of colour and prettiness as well but it’s not really at all. I save that side of me for designing.
Who to you is the Laura Chambers customer and do you design with a person in mind?
Yes, I do a design with a person in mind. It is a woman who is not afraid of colour and adores the finer things in life! Age is not an issue I have women 25 – 80 buying my knitwear, which I think is brilliant. The travel wraps are really popular for women who travel and want to feel stylish, comfortable and warm while on the go. After I design an item I do ask myself who is going to wear this? If I can’t think of someone the design is scrapped. If I do think of someone but maybe it’s a case of yes this person would wear it but only if the neckline was higher, the sleeve was longer and one colour was taken away well then I make these adjustments to the design.
What drew you to work with tulle and cashmere?
Well, my two favourite textiles are tulle and cashmere. Tulle creates such a wonderful ethereal vibe and comes from my ballerina obsession mentioned earlier. So team tulle, with beautiful soft cashmere its like a dream. I have always worked with tulle even my degree collection many moons ago featured tulle heavily…and then sure I went on to open a boutique called Tulle. I produced tulle skirts for the shop over the years which sold brilliantly especially around the time of SATC when Carrie wore that gorgeous mint green tulle skirt. As a result, it felt natural to design and make a range of tulle skirts to team with the cashmere.
What drew you to collaborate with Little Larks?
The fantastic girls from Little Larks approached me redesigning a kids cashmere collection to sell alongside their gorgeous dresses. It was autumn/winter 2016 and it was great to let people have the option of a gorgeous cashmere cardigan to go over their little girls Christmas dress etc. to keep them warm but still keeping in mind the style of their dresses and what would work.
I really enjoyed working with Little Larks but to manufacturer a kids cashmere cardigan in Ireland is expensive. It really is a luxury item so while it was a great project to work on it proved too expensive to manufacture going forward especially if manufacturing was to stay here in Dublin.
Who else would you like to collaborate with?
I don’t have anyone obvious that I would like to collaborate with but I am open to the idea.
We have a lot of really great knitwear designers in Ireland at the moment that I have a lot of respect for. I don’t see anyone as competition, I think we all bring something different to the table and I really enjoy seeing what each designer produces as we all have a distinctive style and very different customer.
How important is it for you to manufacture here in Ireland?
It’s actually really important to me to keep manufacturing here in Ireland. I love that everything is made in Dublin, We have the resources and skills here so if I can support home production then I feel I should. It means that production is expensive but it also allows me more creative space. I can just sample an idea that hits me and if I’m lucky to have the sample back in a few days and then make adjustments if needs are. I love working with the knitters face to face and not virtually. Also, because I just sell online currently it means that I can produce a high-quality cashmere garment here in Dublin and sell it directly to the customer avoiding the retail mark up. If I were to sell in store and keep manufacturing here it would mean my garments would be far more expensive.
What is your proudest moment to date?
I don’t have any one moment but I have to say when one of my favourite stylists ever Catherine Condell styled one of my jumpers beautifully last season in Image magazine I was delighted. I have so much respect for her work so it meant a lot to see one of my sweaters in one of her shoots.
Also the surprise I got when I was in the airport in January and saw one of my sweaters on the cover of Irish Country magazine. I had to have a second look as while I recognized it I did not know from where for a moment. It was pretty crazy to see a row of magazines with one of my sweaters staring out at me. That was all thanks to the fantastic stylist Corina Gaffey taking the sweater out for a shoot with Anna Geary.
Have you any tips for anyone starting out in fashion?
Well, I would say can you imagine yourself doing anything else??? If you do just go and do that. To have success in the fashion industry it has to be because while you might have a talent its also because you simply can’t imagine doing anything else. Starting off it has to be something that consumes you. It’s the reason you get up in the morning and stay up all night. It makes you who you are, like its part of your DNA. If it’s not you won’t develop the drive and hard skin that you will need!
Where do you see the brand going in the next 5 years?
I would like to see the brand grow from knitwear to other items of clothing. I would love to design and manufacture a full collection and perhaps have a show. You know I did love having my own boutique, so I would not rule out having an online store but also bricks and mortar store over the next 5 years. I feel despite the online world we now live in there is nothing like going into a shop and feeling the beautiful cashmere, seeing the colours, in reality, trying the garment on and talking face to face with the business owner. I miss that interaction with the customer as I love offering great customer service and seeing my knitwear going home with someone who loves it as much as I do.
Lyons or Barrys ???
Umm, I don’t really mind either…..as long as it has a splash of milk and served with a shortbread!
A massive thank you to Laura for doing the interview, I loved learning more about her journey into design and where the brand is evolving to. And if you do decide to purchase a piece of her beautiful work, then don’t forget to check out her tips on how to care for your Cashmere. I would highly recommend that you take a look at her work on her website or her Facebook page. And my personal favourite is her Instagram page as I love seeing behind the scenes.
All images kindly provided for use.
If you enjoyed this interview in the ‘Floralesque Meets’ Series, then you can click here to read more exciting interviews with designers, creators, artists, photographers, entrepreneurs and more – enjoy meeting the makers!